Community Music Center was founded by Gertrude Field in 1921 with the mission of making music accessible to all people regardless of financial means.

1912 – The music department of the Dolores Street Girl’s Club settlement house is founded. Gertrude Field moves to San Francisco from New York to become its first director.

1921 – Community Music School is established as a unique organization and moves to its current home at 544 Capp Street.

mission and history community chest

 1923 – The Community Chest (now The United Way) is formed and begins supporting Community Music School, one of the original affiliates. Community Music School Board members are city leaders including Mrs. Jesse W. Lilienthal, Mrs. M.C. Porter, Mrs. Leon Sloss, Mrs. Mortimer Fleishhacker, Mrs. I. W. Hellman Jr., Mrs. Leon Guggenheim, Mrs. Louis C. Greene, Mrs. Henry Crocker, Mrs. Walter Bliss, Mrs. Sidney Ehrman, Mrs. William Fitzhugh, Mrs. John Rossiter, Mrs. Andrew Welch and Mrs. Frank King.

1926 – The auditorium, upstairs offices and four practice rooms are added to the original building on Capp Street.

mission and history cmc exterior 1953

1953 – Community Music School becomes Community Music Center.

1973 – San Francisco Community Orchestra, San Francisco Community Chorus, and the San Francisco Children’s Chorus are formed as part of Community Music Center.

mission and history cmc richmond distrcit branch

1983 – Community Music Center opens its Richmond District Branch.

1987 – CMC develops the Comprehensive Musicianship Program, which provides current CMC private lesson students with free theory, musicianship and ensemble classes for the academic year.

mission and history community music center YMP 1

1991 – In collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, CMC creates the Inner City Young Musicians Program (ICYMP) for low-income middle school students. Now known as the Young Musicians Program (YMP), the program provides free ensemble and theory classes as well as weekly individual lessons to students recommended by their school music teachers.

1994 – Community Music Center’s Latin music program begins as a residency of the California Arts Council.

1995 – The CMC Teen Jazz Band is founded as a free program.

1996 – The Inner City Young Musicians Program (now YMP) expands to include high school students.

mission and history community music center older adult choirs 1

2006 – CMC pilots the Mission District Young Musicians Program (MDYMP) which serves motivated, predominantly Latino students from low-income families who live or attend school in the Mission District. The MDYMP is a tuition-free program that provides students with weekly private lessons, theory, musicianship and ensemble classes with an emphasis on popular and classical Latin music.

2011 – CMC launches the first of its older adult choirs, the Solera Singers.

2018 – CMC launches New Voices Bay Area TIGQ Chorus, a community chorus for people self-identified as transgender, intersex, and genderqueer.

2021 – CMC celebrates 100 years of music for everyone.

Narrated by Dianne Nicolini, KDFC radio host.

More about the history of Community Music Center

Community Music School (now Community Music Center) was founded as a department of the Dolores Street Girl’s Club settlement house in 1912. Gertrude Field came from the Mannes School of Music in New York to coordinate the new music program. Field was a former nurse, violin teacher and settlement house worker. She promptly made Community Music School an independent organization and moved it to our Victorian home at 544 Capp Street where it continues to provide low or no cost music lessons and concerts.

Miss Field, who directed Community Music School until 1946, had a very straightforward educational philosophy: “We are not primarily concerned about the evolution of concert artists, though we give special attention to and encourage those who show exceptional talent. Our aim is to create a musical atmosphere in the home by giving children the means of expression. Hence, ‘how beautiful,’ rather than how well-played or sung, is the comment one hears oftenest in our classes.”

Gertrude Field’s vision of Community Music School was to be a provider of music that was not art for art’s sake, but art for life’s sake. As part of its social vision, Community Music School became a founding agency of the Community Chest in 1922. In 1926, Mrs. Fleishhacker donated funds to add a recital hall where free or low cost concerts are still held many days of the year. Field and her Board led CMC through strong growth in the 20’s and 30’s, from 270 students in 1925 to 500 by 1938. Instruction focused on individual lessons and group classes in theory, appreciation, chamber ensemble and orchestra.

In addition to lessons, Community Music Center has had the honor of hosting a wide range of notable entertainers to Capp Street over the years. These have included Jennifer Koh, Joe Pass, Marcus Roberts, Regina Carter, Frederica von Stade, Jascha Heifetz, Dawn Upshaw, Andre Watts, Max Roach, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ruth Laredo, Pepe Romero, Richard Goode, the Kronos Quartet, Chanticleer, Emanuel Ax, Joyce DiDonato, and Jack Benny, who entertained students during his visit to Community Music Center.